U.S. payroll gains slowed by more than forecast in December, wages picked up slightly and the jobless rate held at the lowest level since 2000, adding to signs of a full-employment economy.
Employers added 148,000 workers, compared with the 190,000 median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, held back by a drop in retail positions, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The jobless rate was at 4.1 percent for a third month, while average hourly earnings increased by 2.5 percent from a year earlier, after a 2.4 percent gain in November that was revised downward.
“It’s a little soft across the board but overall, when you’re this close to full employment, I think it’s reasonable to see some slowdown in job gains,” said Jeremy Schwartz, a U.S. economist at Credit Suisse in New York. “This year we should probably expect to see some slowdowns in job gains — it’s just harder to add jobs when there’s a smaller pool to choose from.”
“This is a benign slowdown,” Schwartz said. “The Fed would probably be happy to see this slowdown.”
The breakdown of December data across industries showed solid gains of 30,000 in construction and 25,000 in manufacturing. Retailers cut 20,300 positions during the height of the holiday-shopping season, bringing total gains among service providers to 91,000, down from 176,000 in November.
Revisions to prior reports subtracted a total of 9,000 jobs from payrolls in the previous two months, according to the report. November’s reading was revised upward to 252,000 from 228,000.